This Week, I Read… (2020 #42)

#155 – Sell Out, by Tammy L. Gray

  • Read: 10/29/20 – 10/30/20
  • Mount TBR: 133/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 44%. Partly because I didn’t realize this was a Christian romance when I purchased it many moons ago, and when it started getting preachy, I felt relieved to have a solid reason to set it aside when I wasn’t enjoying it.

Writing style gripes: Overuse of similes made all the characters sound dramatic, which is not something this narrative needed–it’s already melodramatic enough because of its subject matter. The “chapters”–if you can even call them that–were short and choppy, switching between POVs sometimes as quickly as every two pages, to the point some “chapters” didn’t even feel like a complete scene.

Character gripes: I never got invested because these are all flat people with little personality. And in Cody and Skylar’s case, specifically, what little personality they were given was “pretentious jerk about music.” How dare somebody like anything that’s ever been played on the radio? My name is Cody and I can only listen to music I feel is properly “obscure” and underappreciated because I value obscurity for its own sake and think that makes me cool. Sure, people like that exist in real life, and in real life, I don’t like them either because they judge me for having a Savage Garden phase or listening to the Foo Fighters. I love music. I adore music. And this book was projecting judgment of me for loving music in the “wrong” way, every time one of the characters talked about it.

Plot gripes: ….what plot? Whatever narrative through-line there was supposed to be was not particularly obvious to me when I gave up just short of halfway through. Since I found this marketed as a romance, I assume Cody and Skylar eventually triumph over Evil High School Drama and get together, but at 44% their “romance” is barely started, and most of the events that have happened are typical Evil High School Drama, making sure we know precisely how Evil everyone is, and how awful bullying is (but also making sure to point out that adults are useless and won’t help you so I guess you better handle all your life issues on your own, and/or pray about it, because teachers? the principal? no help there.) But it all felt mostly formless, directionless.

I didn’t find anything to like about this book.

#156 – Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey

  • Read: 10/30/20 – 11/2/20
  • Around the Year in 52 Books: A book by the same author who wrote one of your best reads in 2019 or 2018
  • Mount TBR: 134/150
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

I had no idea the stakes would be raised so high in this installment of the series. I got to the midpoint climax and was so shocked, so anxious, that I had to set the book down before I gave myself a panic attack. I washed a sinkful of dishes and played around with my art journal for a while to calm down.

I know I gave the first three books five stars, but this is a bonkers six-star book. I honestly thought, when the early chapters were splitting up the crew on seemingly unimportant personal errands, that this was going to be a disappointing story, and I could not have been more wrong. Everything quickly goes tense, then it gets worse, then we have four different stories of survival against insane odds while trying to reunite our scattered crew.

And all the while, the mystery of what the protomolecule is quietly doing offscreen ticks along in the background as more human-focused events take their toll on the solar system. The epilogue only ratchets up that mystery.

I usually don’t care about spoilers in my reviews, but with the TV adaptation of this chunk of the story dropping in just over a month, I don’t want to reveal anything more than the vague upheaval I’ve already mentioned, so instead I want to talk about Amos. In previous reviews I’ve said Avasarala is my favorite character, and for large values of “favorite” that’s still true. (And she’s only got a minor role here but is still in top form.) But I’ve always loved Amos, first because he gets all the best one-liners, and as a show-watcher first, I was impressed with the actor’s performance. But this chunk of the series manages to reveal some, but not all, of his backstory on Earth while also pitting him against unlikely odds mostly on his own–he doesn’t have Naomi or Holden there to be his moral compass. Because we’ve known that all along, that Amos is staunchly amoral and deliberately chooses someone to serve as his external conscience. But here we really explore that, and his (relative) solitude creates a different version of himself, one that we’ve only seen glimpses of, a version that I found both incredibly compelling and downright fascinating.

So now Amos is my “favorite” character, as much as I can say I only have one. I was also glad/surprised to see some familiar faces reappearing, as well as finally meeting Drummer in the books, where she’s been in the show much longer. Her role here was so minor I’m wondering why it was expanded to the point where she replaced Havelock; maybe book six will tell me more about her, because I do like her in the show just fine.

I’m excited enough to want to soldier right on, but a) I think watching the upcoming season of the show will help me better understand the gravity of everything that’s just changed (even with any changes/omissions the show makes) and b) I’ve got a reading list to finish by the end of the year, and more Expanse sadly isn’t on it. Maybe if I finish early. Maybe as a Christmas present to myself. We’ll see.

#157 – Forever Buckhorn, by Lori Foster

  • Read: 11/2/20 – 11/3/20
  • Mount TBR: 135/150
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

So here’s the deal. I picked this (and like, four or five other Lori Foster paperbacks) up at a used book sale. I saw the author name, I’d heard her recommended, I said “sure why not these are like ten cents each because it’s a bag sale.”

Which means I did not realize several of them, including this one, were reprints and doublings-up of shorter, older novels. Gabe and Jordan were both originally published in 2000.

And boy, does it show. I would argue that the noun “female” was never a good way to refer to an adult woman, but this was before the incels (and others) had truly corrupted it, so I was basically cringing at the heroes (Gabe more than Jordan) constantly referring to this “female” and that “female.” Not the author’s fault (not mostly, anyway) but it made this more unpleasant than it perhaps needed to be.

My criticisms of both novels are basically the same. Too short to be well-developed in either plot or character, and to provide a believable build up from meeting to happily ever after. Too focused on making sure we know the heroine is “barely pretty” until the hero realizes “wait actually I love her so she’s beautiful.” Too weird a mashup of wholesome small-town/brother/family romance tropes, right alongside both men instantly becoming raging horndogs the second they see womanly flesh on display. They both read as half-crazed and get physical with their love interests way earlier in the plot than I was comfortable with (especially Jordan, who kisses Georgia in the back of a sherriff’s cruiser the night they met when she clearly doesn’t like or trust him yet, and also one or both of them might or might not be about to get arrested. Nothing says romance like criminal charges!)

In the end, I’d give Gabe two stars and Jordan only one, because I did. not. like. the way Georgia’s sex work was handled both as a plot point and in Jordan’s reaction to it early on. He was a sleazeball who had no problem condescending to her about her dancing ten minutes after he’d spent an entire song drooling over her, so I was definitely not into his towering hypocrisy and did not believe they could ever be a believable couple. Eventually they were a couple at least, but I don’t think it was that believable…

Also, based on how bad these are, I’m purging the rest of this author’s work from my TBR. Maybe her style has improved or changed with the times and her stuff is better now, but everything I bought is older and likely to be more of the same thing I got here.

#158 – Dreams of a Dark Warrior, by Kresley Cole

  • Read: 11/3/20 – 11/4/20
  • Mount TBR: 136/150
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

Considering I haven’t read the first nine books in the series, this was surprisingly readable. There was a brief explanation of the major types of immortals at the beginning, so that I could get my bearings, though obviously I would have understood more and been more invested if I hadn’t randomly jumped into an established universe so late.

That’s what happens when you spot a book by an author you’ve heard about at a book sale, and it just happens to be #10 instead of #1.

Setting aside the stuff I didn’t know but was clearly my fault for not knowing, I followed this pretty well. I do question why this plot needed to be just over five hundred pages, because a lot of the action seemed to take up too much space, but then so did the constant angst involved in the romance.

Declan is too angsty for my personal taste, but his history more than justifies his personality, and I guess we needed five hundred pages to spread out his arc from “insane hatred of immortals” to “some types of them aren’t entirely evil and I LOVE THIS PARTICULAR ONE.” The hurt/comfort dynamic layered on top of immortal/reincarnated mortal lovers was *chef’s kiss* to me, even if I didn’t fully get everything surrounding it. Which made up a great deal for me not always liking Declan, and not always liking Regin either–sometimes her crude sass was hilarious, and sometimes it fell entirely flat for me, with no real way to predict which jokes would land and which wouldn’t.

So, for a random book by an author I hadn’t tried yet, this was a reasonable success. I’m not sure whether that means I’ll go back to the beginning of this series and find out what’s going on, or if I’ll simply try another series altogether, but I would read more either way.

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